Deep unease with the way the Department for Work and Pensions responded to an evidence-based review (EBR) of proposals to improve the Work Capability Assessment has been expressed this week by a group of charities and patient groups – who had called for the descriptors to be changed so they better suit the needs of people with fluctuating and progressive conditions.
In a submission to the fifth annual review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – the key fact-finding questionnaire that must be completed by people claiming Employment and Support Allowance – the EBR Charity Group said its proposal for an alternative assessment had not been tested rigorously enough by the Department for Work and Pensions. It also “vehemently” disagreed with a number of the government's conclusions.
The charity group includes MEA medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd, who represents member organisations in The Countess of Mar's Forward-ME Group. Other charities in the EBR group are Crohn's and Colitis UK, Royal Mencap Society, Mind, the MS Society, the National Aids Trust, the National Austistic Society and Parkinson's UK.
The EBR was a process designed to test specific amendments to WCA descriptors recommended by the charities at the invitation of the Independent Review and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Their alternative assessment called for a ‘multi-dimensional' approach that would allow the assessor to record both the severity and frequency of the functional limitation within the descriptor. It was the result of highly detailed, technical work that took place over many months.
Yet, they say, too few claimants with fluctuating and progressive conditions were ever included in the EBR. The MS Society, Parkinson's UK and Crohn's and Colitis UK went further – complaining there was “very limited' testing of their conditions.
The group said they were supported in their claims by MPs on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions who, in their own report on the independent review, stated: “We welcome the Evidence-Based Review as a step towards evaluating the effectiveness of the WCA descriptors. However we do not believe that the Review was sufficient in itself to lay to rest concerns about the descriptors. There were factors both in the way the Alternative Assessment was piloted, and in how its outcomes were compared with those of the WCA, which limit its value as a comparative test.”
To read the five-page report of the EBR Charity Group and see their recommendations, click HERE.